The statute of limitations serves an important function in the criminal justice system. Its purpose and design is to permit both the prosecution and the defense to present a case before the evidence gets stale.
Prosecution within a few years of the crime allows a victim to confront the accused and it also allows the accused to call witnesses and prepare a defense. As more and more time lapses between the crime and the trial, it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the accused to prepare a meaningful defense – memories are lost, witnesses have died, exculpatory evidence is no longer available.
HB 4100 brought back a concept that was floated and failed in the 2011 session to extend the statute of limitations for sex-related crimes if, at the time of the crime, the victim was under the age of 18. For many sex-related crimes under current law, prosecution of the defendant must be commenced within six years after the commission of the crime and, in cases where victims were under 18 at the time of the crime, prosecution must be commenced any time before the victim turns 30 or within 12 years after the offense is reported, whichever occurs first. HB 4100 sought to eliminate the statute of limitations completely for these certain sex-related crimes committed against minors.
The ACLU recognizes the very difficult issues raised by HB 4100, such as the great time and pain that is sometimes takes for a victim to truly grasp what has happened. The courage of crime victims to come forward in support of similar proposals in the past is profound. We opposed the bill, as we did others in prior sessions, because of the important protections that a statute of limitations provides to the accused, particularly those who are innocent of the crime.
The fundamental underpinning of our criminal justice system is the presumption that a person accused of a crime is innocent unless and until the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charge. Particularly in the realm of highly emotional cases, such as sexual assault of a minor, a jury is more likely to start with the opposite presumption: that the defendant is guilty or he would not have been charged. The more we take steps to extend the statute of limitations or eliminate it altogether, the greater the barrier to justice that the accused must face.
The similar concept for this bill in 2011 did receive a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, but HB 4100 did not receive a hearing this session. We expect this issue to resurface in future sessions.
WIN: DIED IN COMMITTEE